Johnson continues to etch himself in Rays lore
Pinch-hit homer joins 2008 shot among slugger's clutch hits
ST. PETERSBURG -- Dan Johnson was at a loss for words.
"I can't even explain it, dude," Johnson said about his epic game-tying home run in Wednesday night's 8-7, 12-inning win that helped propel the Rays into the playoffs. "Greatest feeling in the world."
Johnson could be found in the batting cage behind the Rays' dugout taking swings when destiny approached him once again.
"I was expecting to bat a little later," Johnson said. "And when the security guys ran up to tell me, 'they're looking for you now,' I ran back down and next thing you know I was up to bat."
Johnson entered the game to pinch-hit with two outs in the ninth inning and the Rays trailing the Yankees, 7-6. The veteran is best remembered by Rays fans for his heroics during the team's 2008 charge when he homered off Boston's Jonathan Papelbon to tie a pivotal September game at Fenway Park. The blast has been labeled the biggest home run in Rays history.
Now Johnson had another chance. After a season that saw him struggle with the Rays, get sent to Triple-A Durham and not exactly light it up there, could he ever have stepped to the plate thinking he might produce magic again?
"Oh yeah, for some reason in those situations, I get real comfortable," Johnson said. "I feel like I see the ball real well and I'm real confident about what's going to happen."
Johnson connected on a 2-2 changeup from Cory Wade and ripped it down the right-field line to tie the game while sending the fans at Tropicana Field into hysterics.
"At first, I'm like, 'Stay fair. Please stay fair,'" Johnson said. "And then after it was fair, I'm like, 'I can't believe it's happened again.' ... I was fortunate to keep that ball fair. It was a good pitch, changeup away. And I was able to stay through it and keep it fair."
When Johnson got selected from Durham on Sept. 14, Rays manager Joe Maddon could not have possibly envisioned what happened Wednesday night. Could he?
"Honestly, I've got to give [Rays executive vice president] Andrew [Friedman] and the boys a lot of credit for this one," Maddon said. "We talked about it and again: We try to piece things together and look at all the possible situations that may occur. There was one tonight that we talked about, and he rose to the occasion."
Friedman smiled when asked about the decision to bring up Johnson in September.
"You know it's funny, I flashed back to a couple of weeks ago when we talked about bringing Dan Johnson up," Friedman said. "And obviously, he's gotten some big hits for us in the past. We were talking about before we went to Boston, obviously, everyone remembers the home run he hit against Papelbon. And we were just hoping to recreate that moment and how he's prone to find himself in those moments. And obviously he did, and I can't say enough about how big it was."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.